Tech Week: Retraining the Nervous System with the Lokomat

Before patients arrive at Magee, some are told it is unlikely they will ever walk again. But with the help of our Locomotor Training Clinic, many of those same people are beating the odds.

Locomotor Training (LT) is a therapy program that helps people improve functional abilities and quality of life – and in some cases, can even help them relearn to stand and walk. Seriously. This intervention is designed for people with neurologic dysfunction caused by spinal cord injury, brain injury or stroke, and is based on current knowledge of how the brain and spinal cord control stepping and how the nervous system learns (or relearns) a motor skill. But it’s not just stepping. LT can also lead to better heart and lung function, improved bladder function, increased bone density, decreased spasticity, and a decrease in the likelihood of skin lesions.

Here’s how it works. The patient  is suspended in a harness over a treadmill, while specially trained therapists move his or her legs and body to simulate walking. Physical therapy sessions include assisted stepping in a harness suspended over a treadmill, taking the skills practiced on the treadmill to the overground environment, as well as practicing functional skills such as balance, transfers, and self – care activities.

Picture: Hocoma, Switzerland

Picture: Hocoma, Switzerland

In addition to our manual system, we also offer treadmill training with a robotic system: the Lokomat.  Here’s where the real high tech stuff comes into play. The client is un-weighted over a treadmill similar to the manual system, but is moved in a walking pattern with a robotic exoskeleton controlled by the therapist.  Weight bearing, speed and amount of assistance from the exoskeleton are all variables that can help the client move toward their personal goals.  We offer the Lokomat as an option for outpatient therapy as well as a part of our Wellness Program at the Riverfront.

Magee’s experience with Locomotor Training led to an opportunity to be one of two founding members of the NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) sponsored by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation (CDRF) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The mission of this network is to create a system of specialized centers designed to provide standardized activity-based rehabilitation therapy to individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury, based on current scientific and clinical evidence. Together with the NRN, we have been able to help patients increase their independence and return to walking, bike riding, carrying their children, rowing, and so much more. Not only do we believe strongly in the LT program, but so do our patients.  For a recent fundraiser to support Locomotor Training at Magee and the NRN, more 30 patients participated in the 24 Hour Walk It Out Step-a-Thon that helped to raise more than $30,000.

To see the Lokomat and Locomotor Training in action, check out the video below. To learn how you can be involved in the Locomotor Training Clinic, call the Magee Riverftont Outpatient Center at 215-218-3900.

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